Senate Blocks Nominee Because He Defended Mumia Abu-Jamal

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 5 2014 1:34 PM

Senate Blocks Nominee Because He Defended Mumia Abu-Jamal

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We're not likely to see Debo Adegbile at any "Free Mumia" rallies anytime soon.

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Six years ago, freshman Sen. Bob Casey took a risk and endorsed Barack Obama for president. He had little to gain. Hillary Clinton was always favored to win his state in the April primary, and she went on to do so convincingly. Casey would share a ballot with Obama in 2012, but he'd win more votes than the president. His constituency was stronger than Obama's, even if he was a less thrilling politician. He rarely needed to break with the president.

Until this month. Obama had nominated Debo Adegbile, a New York civil rights litigator, to lead the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. Conservatives would oppose Adegbile because of his views on voting rights, but that alone wouldn't stop the nomination of a former Sesame Street actor. What could? Well: In 2009, Adegbile was part of a legal team that represented Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner 28 years earlier. This was a horror to Pennsylvania's police unions, and the Fraternal Order of Police opposed Adegbile.

So did Casey. "It is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives—both elected and appointed," he said last week. "The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia."

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This gave conservatives an opening. On social media, they pre-emptively attacked Democrats who might support a "cop killer lawyer." And they won. The test vote today was 52–47 against. Harry Reid had voted "nay" to retain the ability to bring up Adegbile again, but Texas Sen. John Cornyn (newly victorious over one of history's worst primary challengers) was MIA. Point is, there were 52 hard votes to block Adegbile, including every Republican and Bob Casey, Chris Coons, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, and John Walsh.

The latter two senators are fighting re-election bids this year in red states. Coons voted no, he said, because he was "respecting the concerns" of the police. Donnelly, Manchin, and Heitkamp aren't on ballots again until 2018. All of them were following the lead of Casey.

"I'm encouraged that people on their side are looking at the quality of the nominee," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. "This guy was just so over-the-top."

Here's a classic clip of Debo on Sesame Street. (He's the human boy, not the muppet.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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